BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 27 Oct '17

Cork is a durable and sustainable alternative to leather – and could be the answer to slowing down fast fashion

This article appears in the autumn issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 27 October 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online

Cork is the best wine preservation system in history. In fact, a container from the first century AD, found in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, was not only closed with a cork but also still contained wine.

The unique properties of cork – including lightness, impermeability, rot resistance and flexibility – make it a first-class material for fashion accessories as well as wine stoppers.

Cork ‘leather’ isn’t cork as you know it. It’s a velvety soft fabric with robust properties that make it a great ethical substitute for leather bags, belts, wallets, purses and even jewellery.

‘Cork is one of the most natural and beautiful alternatives for fashion’, says Marcus te Rehorst, pictured below, the managing director of KorkAllee.de (CorkAlley.com) and winner of 2017’s P.E.A. Award for Nature.

A GAP IN THE MARKET

Cork accessories are popular in Portugal, where Marcus first came across them, but he was surprised to find they’re pretty much absent from the German market. ‘I couldn’t understand it’, he says, ‘and I got an urge to close the gap.’

Marcus founded KorkAllee.de in 2016. It’s the first online shop in Germany to sell a range of exclusive, premium cork products, uniting various top brands and designers from Portugal, such as Artelusa and Montado, with smaller labels such as GlamCork.

‘We’re proud that competition between our brands isn’t the most important thing’, Marcus says. ‘We all want to unite to make cork a sustainable alternative to leather and to attract as many people as possible to this 100% renewable raw material. That’s our philosophy: to inspire more people to use cork.’

KorkAllee.de’s main customers are women and men who value sustainable and socially responsible fashion. The site’s also popular with vegans; two of its brands, Artelusa and GlamCork, produce exclusively PETA-Approved Vegan ranges.

‘With cork we offer one of the most ecological alternatives to leather and other materials’, Marcus says. ‘The products are chic, sustainable and also have a positive ecological impact. Not a single tree has to die or be damaged for the extraction of cork. On the contrary, cultivated cork forests can bind four times as much CO2 as cork trees that will never be harvested.’

Click here to find out why the KorkAllee Cork Tote Bag is a MyGreenPod.com Hero

Cork products available from KorkAllee.de

CORK’S CREDENTIALS

Globally there are more than 2.14 million hectares of cork forest, and more than half of the world’s unprocessed cork is found in Portugal. Various countries, including the USA, have tried to plant cork forests, but the Mediterranean’s special rain, wind and soil conditions seem crucial to enabling this material to flourish.

When handled properly, cork is sustainable and renewable. When the tree has matured (after around 25-30 years), the cork can be harvested once every nine years until it’s around 200 years old. At that ripe old age it’s removed and two seedlings are planted in its place to ensure the forest continues to grow.

The Rainforest Alliance works with cork manufacturers to help them obtain FSC certification. Meeting the required standards helps cork producers protect the cork oak forests, which is imperative as they’re home to the endangered Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle and many other rare bird and plant species.

For Marcus, the goal is to use KorkAllee.de to educate as many people as possible about the benefits of vegan, Fairtrade and sustainable fashion. In the meantime he’s focusing on bringing new brands on board, including a label that produces shoes and baby shoes and a supplier of cork yoga products. ‘We are currently planning various extensions, but I can’t say anything exact!’, he insists. Watch this space…